It is heartening to see progress in the fight against malaria. Over the past thirty years and with hundreds of millions of dollars invested thus far, the RTS,S malaria vaccine was officially rolled out yesterday in Malawi. In 2017, I wrote about the vaccine trials that began in 2009 and the announcement of the three countries that had been chosen for the vaccine rollout: Kenya, Malawi, and Ghana. In clinical trials, the vaccine was found to prevent approximately 4 in 10 malaria cases, including 3 in 10 cases of life-threatening severe malaria. Now two years later the vaccine is officially in use to curb the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of African children under the age of five. The Malaria Vaccine Implementation Program will continue through 2022.
Ninety percent of malaria deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. In fact, one child dies every two minutes in Africa from malaria with a total of 250,000 deaths. To date, ways to prevent malaria are largely two-fold: insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor residual spraying. The vaccine’s intended use is to supplement current prevention methods and not to replace them according to the World Health Organization.
“We have seen tremendous gains from bed nets and other measures to control malaria in the last 15 years, but progress has stalled and even reversed in some areas. We need new solutions to get the malaria response back on track, and this vaccine gives us a promising tool to get there,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The malaria vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of children’s lives.”
In addition to other scheduled vaccines for children, the RTS,S vaccine is intended to be administered in 4 doses: 3 doses between 5 and 9 months of age and the fourth dose provided around the 2nd birthday. The vaccine program will reach approximately 360,000 children each year in selected areas across the three selected countries. To thank for the vaccine are funders Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Unitaid. Additionally, WHO, PATH and GSK are providing in-kind contributions.
“We salute WHO and Malawi for their leadership in realizing this historic milestone,” said Steve Davis, President and CEO of PATH, “and we look forward to the start of vaccination in Ghana, and then Kenya later this year. A vaccine for malaria is among many innovations needed to bring an end to this disease, and we proudly stand with all countries and our many partners in progressing towards a malaria-free world.”
Art by Uzuri Art.